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Review: Why The Hype And Controversy Around ‘The Catcher In The Rye’ By JD Salinger Is Justified

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The Catcher in the Rye is a classic for a reason. In fact, its hype is justifiable. I picked up this book only recently. Honestly, I didn’t know what the book is all about or the controversy surrounding it. But now I have clarity on both.

I sat down to read this book on a lazy day in the office. It so happened that I was pulled into it soon enough, to have willingly gone for a week of this exciting journey with Holden – the protagonist. Holden is a 17-year-old teen, and the book is just 2-3 days of his life. The tone of the book stands true to Holden’s character all throughout. To give you the feeling, imagine a 17-year-old teen sitting beside you and narrating his story. It’s just like that, from how his roommate plucks pimples to his stereotypes and biases, they are clearly laid out in those pages.

But while he is all-over-the-place, the clarity of thought is appreciable. These are relatable complexities of our thought process. Once we open the book, it is like Holden is waiting to grasp our hand, get us to sit and talk all about his life.

When Phoebe, his sister asks what he wants to become in life, he says:

“…I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of Rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around – nobody big, I mean – except me. And I am standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they are running and they don’t look where they are going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I do all day. I’d just be the Catcher in the Rye and all.”

The popular metaphoric understanding of this statement is how he wants to capture all the innocence from being corrupted by this world. And I can see why Holden failed to understand the ways of this world. It boxes people. It institutionalises children into schools and teaches them to be productive and profitable machines. Schools are, after all, the tried-and-tested manufacturing machines of employable individuals.

From language to science, mathematics and social science, these subjects help students fit the world and define it for them. There is no scope for questioning or creating our own realities. And once adulting hits them, these productive adults enter the comfortable corporate setting, where effectivity and efficiency are rewarded, and art becomes a luxury. We vacation in hotels and resorts and partake in the transient enjoyment of vanity.

Soon, our greed and lust take over, and we are bound to spend the rest of our lives in asylums and old-age homes regretting, not having lived a meaningful life. Life happens too fast till we realise that this was just a capital game and life was the biggest joke, where we were measuring our happiness on the scale set for us by the world.

The lockdown has had two clear affects: one is the lack of social life and two is the WFH culture. And you will have recourse from both through this book. I bet Holden will be your friend and let you make peace with the new normal. He will give you a million reasons to not fit in molds and quit the race set by the world.

The one thing that struck me among so many other things is how the author seems to have observed things in such detail. It is unbelievable that it is a piece of fiction. It is more like reading somebody’s diary. And when I finished reading it, it honestly felt like I lost a friend, who – while he is around, he bugs me with all his weird stories, but when he is away, I miss him. He just keeps me occupied with all these stupid things that may not matter to me in the long run, but just someone who is there, counting on me to keep all his secrets and comfortable enough to share all his sincere feelings.

And obviously, your interest might have been piqued by the ‘controversy’ part in my lead paragraph. So, let me do some justice to that as well. You know, John Lennon was shot by Mark David Chapman. Chapman was initially a great fan of John Lennon. But he went on to hate him when he realised how phony he was. His beginnings had been humble, and his songs always encouraged one to make peace with normality, whereas Chapman pointed out how Lennon himself was living an extravagant life. He was also angered when he noticed how distant and blasphemous he had become against Christ. Once Lennon had publicly made a statement that “the Queen is even more famous than Christ”, which supposedly hurt his sentiments.

After the murder, Chapman did not try to escape. Instead, he just stood there reading ‘The Catcher in the Rye’. He mentioned to the Court later that if someone would have examined the book in his hand, he had written ‘This is my statement’ on the last page.

About the Author: Akshita Pattiyani is an Editorial Assistant with Taylor and Francis Academic Publishing House. She is a community leader for the All Informa Nations initiative on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Workplace.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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